Fifteen miles west of the recent hockey epicenter of Fenway Park is the bucolic campus of Bentley University -- with a hockey program that puts more daily emphasis on GPA than GAA.
While the NHL and NCAA were gearing up for their historic games at Fenway the first week of the New Year, Ryan Soderquist and his flock of Falcons already had accomplished a piece of school history in a Classic of their own to close out the decade.
The team plays in Atlantic Hockey and has made steady gains in the eight seasons Soderquist -- a former Bentley player -- has been behind the bench. In the final of the UConn Hockey Classic on Dec. 30, Bentley scored four unanswered goals en route to a 4-1 defeat of nationally-ranked UMass.
Last season, Soderquist guided the Falcons to their best-ever season in Division I with a 19-17-2 record -- after being ranked ninth in the conference preseason poll. Soderquist was named Atlantic Coach of the Year was a finalist for the Spencer Penrose Award as national coach of the year.
"That was our first piece of hardware," said Soderquist of the UConn Hockey Classic trophy. "Right after the game I said to the team, 'This is actually the first piece of trophy we've ever had.' "
Three days before, USCHO.com featured the top 20 Atlantic Hockey League games of the past decade. While Bentley's win against UMass does not come close in league history to the two most memorable -- Air Force's 2-0 defeat of Michigan last March in the NCAA Tournament or Holy Cross' holy-cow 4-3 win against Minnesota in the 2006 tournament -- Bentley's win would have been worthy of top-20 status.
"UMass was ranked," said Soderquist, "so I'm torn between this and beating Maine (last season) in their own building with national champion banners hanging. There aren't a whole lot of games where Atlantic teams beat top-ranked teams in the country."
"Definitely, it was our Fenway game," said sophomore goaltender Kyle Rank
, who made 42 saves in the victory against UMass.
The 22-year-old Rank has stepped in -- and up -- to put the Falcons in the middle of the Atlantic pack, combining with junior Joe Calvi to form the best goaltending tandem in the league.
"(The UConn Classic) gave us a chance to be put on a stage," Rank said. "A team to be reckoned with -- not just another team out of Massachusetts."
"That's what’s great about our sport," said Soderquist. "It gives opportunities to not only schools and programs, but also athletes like Kyle Rank
to step up and get into the limelight.
"We tell our kids you have a special opportunity to do something special in your life. In 60 minutes have a special memory for the rest of your life."
What's really great at Bentley is that other opportunities of a lasting kind transcend any 60-minute encounter on a frozen sheet.
"We believe a great deal in our education and what Bentley will do for you in the future," said Soderquist. "It's great to see guys making big money in their professional careers, set for life without hockey when they graduate."
"Playing at Bentley is a win-win-win beyond the (game)," said Rank. "Every kid on our team loves to play hockey. It's not like we're looking for the next (hockey) level because we're here for four years of school first. It keeps us all in check; our team chemistry is up there because we know we're not going to have a player come for just a year or two and leave. I think it's what a college-hockey experience is all about. I didn't want to be at a school where players come and go. We have a four-year commitment from every kid. That makes it special here."
Soderquist defines "special" in a historic context.
"A win like UMass," he said, "makes me think of all the guys who played in this program and the days of carrying our bags back and forth to the rink. We always knew it was worthwhile."
Bentley has two games each with Atlantic powers Air Force this weekend at home, and two the following on the road at RIT. They split a pair with Canisius last weekend.
"To take a page out of BU's book last year,” said Soderquist, "they went seven-for-seven in the tournaments they played. We're one-for-one so far.
"Our goal is to be a top-four team in our league for home playoff spot. Last year all four top teams went to the Atlantic tournament finals."
One -- or two -- for the NCAA archives
-- The four-team College Hockey America league will dissolve at the end of this season. Last spring, Bemidji State -- which joins the WCHA next season -- was the first CHA team to reach the Frozen Four.
Last weekend, Robert Morris University -- which joins Atlantic Hockey next season -- beat No. 1 Miami on Friday, 3-1, in the biggest upset of the season thus far. On Sunday, RMU beat Miami again, 2-1, to complete two of the biggest back-to-back wins in NCAA history. Robert Morris had gone 11 games without a win.
RMU goaltender Brooks Ostergard made 39 and 38 saves, respectively. Denny Urban's late third-period unassisted power-play goal sealed the Sunday win.
"I think this game gives our whole team a sense of confidence and belief that we can skate with any team in the country," Ostergard told USCHO.com after Friday's win.
A Spartan sweep
-- Michigan State junior forward Corey Tropp
was named the Hockey Commissioners' Association National Division I Player of the Month for December; his teammate, defenseman Torey Krug, was named the National Rookie of the Month.
Tropp, a 2007 third-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres
, had 7 goals and 10 points, most by any student-athlete in the country in both categories in leading the Spartans to a 5-1-0 record, including the program's 12th Great Lakes Invitational title. He tops the nation with 17 goals and 4 game-winning goals through 22 games this season.
Krug helped the team surrender one goal or less in four of six outings during the month. He had 2 assists in the GLI championship game.
On Campus Clips
-- Amo Bessone, coach of the 1966 Michigan State national championship team, died this week at the age of 93. He coached a total of 814 games during 28 years behind the MSU bench, beginning in 1951; only Ron Mason's 974 are higher in program history. Before his Spartans run, Bessone went 20-31-2 in three seasons at Michigan Tech. … Until this week, Miami had been the consensus No. 1 team in the national polls since the first week of the season -- 13 consecutive times. … Key games this week include Maine at Boston College, Wisconsin at Colorado College, and Miami at Ferris State.